Editorial: It didn’t have to happen

Too of­ten, city of­fi­cials and judges be­lieve the best way to handle a prob­lem is to first pre­tend it doesn’t ex­ist, then pre­tend to do something about it, then, only if ab­so­lutely ne­ces­sary, do something about it. Now, two fire­men from North­east Phil­adelphia are dead, and it ap­pears their blood is on the hands of loc­al gov­ern­ment.
The hor­rif­ic five-alarm blaze at a va­cant ware­house in Kens­ing­ton that killed Lt. Robert Neary and Fire­fight­er Daniel Sweeney Monday morn­ing likely would not have happened had the city and court sys­tem been pro­act­ive, not re­act­ive. The Lang­horne-based com­pany that owned the empty ware­house, on the 1800 block of E. York St., owes back taxes and un­paid wa­ter bills. That’s bad enough, but the build­ing re­portedly had been vis­ited by the city’s De­part­ment of Li­censes and In­spec­tions a half-dozen times since Novem­ber and had been broken in­to, even after the city sealed it up.
Something’s ter­ribly wrong with this pic­ture. Too many Phil­adelphia neigh­bor­hoods have aban­doned ware­houses that are tra­gedies just wait­ing to hap­pen.
If city of­fi­cials and the courts, from May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter and pres­id­ent judges on down the lad­der, had any cour­age, they would have made sure that build­ings like the one that col­lapsed on Lt. Neary and Fire­fight­er Sweeney were torn down years ago.
Like so many oth­er seg­ments of gov­ern­ment, vig­or­ous en­force­ment of a zero-tol­er­ance policy on tax dead­beats and ab­sent­ee land­lords — of haz­ard­ous res­id­en­tial AND com­mer­cial prop­er­ties — is doable but rarely done. Had the city and courts not dilly-dal­lied, two North­east fam­il­ies and the en­tire fam­ily known as the Phil­adelphia Fire De­part­ment would not be in tears today. ••
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